Bharti Says ‘Predatory Pricing’ Hurting India Mobile Operators

  • Phone service provider posts 55% decline in quarterly profit
  • Revenue per user for data declines 13%, voice falls 10%

Bharti Airtel Ltd. said “predatory pricing” by a new entrant in India’s mobile-phone services market is hurting the industry after the country’s largest carrier posted a 55 percent drop in profit.

The interconnection charges which carriers pay each other are “well below cost,” Gopal Vittal, Bharti’s chief executive officer for India and South Asia, said in a statement on Tuesday. “This has led to an unprecedented year-on-year revenue decline for the industry, pressure on margins and a serious impact on the financial health of the sector,” he said.

Billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal’s company and other carriers in India are facing an escalating price war after the country’s richest man Mukesh Ambani began commercial services in September. Bharti has slashed prices and introduced offers to fend off Ambani-controlled Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. that provides free voice calls for life and isn’t charging for data until March.

Bharti’s profit in the quarter through December declined to 5.03 billion rupees ($74 million), missing analyst estimates. Data average revenue per user fell 13 percent to 175 rupees as the carrier cut rates. Revenue per subscriber from voice dropped 10 percent. A government ban on some banknotes “aggravated the impact” on earnings in the quarter, the company said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November withdrew old high-denomination banknotes that resulted in a cash crunch in the country. About 94 percent of Bharti’s customers in India use prepaid phone connections and may have found it harder to recharge their phones.

Shares of Bharti fell 1 percent to 316.50 rupees at the close in Mumbai, before the earnings announcement. The stock has gained 3.6 percent since the start of this year, compared with a 2.8 percent gain in the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex Index.

Bharti had 265.9 million customers in India as on Dec. 31, up 9.3 percent from a year earlier.

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